So, What Exactly is Underwater Football?
Underwater football is a team sport played underwater with the objective of placing a ball onto the opposing team’s end zone.
It shares some rules and play elements with other underwater sports like underwater hockey and underwater rugby.
The ball can only be possessed by players who are completely submerged underwater, forcing them to hold their breath. The ball must be passed or dropped when you are touching the surface.
The player with the ball can be tackled (below the shoulders) by the other team, but only when they are in contact with the ball. The tackler must always know where the ball is and release the ball carrier as soon as the ball is free.
A football player can be said to be ‘in control’ as long as they’re touching the ball. It doesn’t just mean controlling it with their hands, but also includes carrying it with their feet or legs, balancing it on some part of their body or holding it against the body of another player.
What Equipment is Necessary?
The equipment necessary for an underwater football game is a lot less complex than one might think.
The most important thing that you need a swimsuit. In fact, wearing two suits might be a good idea if you want maximum coverage, as accidents can happen in a full contact sport.
A snorkel and mask are also necessary for the game because the players must be able to see the ball and breathe underwater.
Fins should also be used in order for plays to happen in a timely manner. The type of fin doesn’t matter too much for new players, but getting a good pair of fins is a worthwhile investment if you plan to play consistently.
The game organizers will provide the ball, wristbands, and extra water polo hats/helmets.
- The game starts by placing the ball on the bottom of a swimming pool in the middle of 2 teams. Each team has 5 players in the play area, and may have additional players (called subs) that wait outside the play area until it is time for them to sub on.
- The referee bangs the gong to signal the start of the game, and then the players from each team kick off from the wall and try to reach the ball first.
The rules of playing underwater football are simple but require a lot of practice to master.
- The object of the game is to move the football underwater and deposit it within the goal area without committing a foul.
- You can move the ball by passing it underwater to a team mate or by swimming with it and handing it to them.
- The defending team can tackle the ball carrier, but must release the person as soon as the ball is dropped.
For a more detailed description of the rules, check out the official underwater football website.
- A player must surface within an arm’s reach of the side of the pool to score.
- The ball must be placed on the side of the pool under control in the goal area in such a manner that the ball comes momentarily to rest on the pool deck with the scorer’s hand still grasping the ball.
At this point, a goal has been scored and whatever happens to the ball subsequent to this point is irrelevant.
A failed scoring attempt where the ball comes to rest on the side of the pool is deemed a surface carry by the offensive team. The other team takes possession of the ball at their defensive wall, and the new defenders must be behind the midline of the pool before play commences.
If the ball returns to the water on its own, during a failed scoring attempt, play continues uninterrupted.
A Brief History of Underwater Football
Underwater football originated in Manitoba, Canada in the 1960s, and was invented by the U of M SCUBA Club, which was training in Winnipeg’s Frank Kennedy Centre. The scuba divers took inspiration from a “keep-away” training exercise that used a pool brick to develop their snorkelling skills.
The pioneers of the game soon found out that throwing a brick at a teammate could be pretty dangerous, especially when another player’s face got in the way of the pass. The further the target, the greater the force, and the more likely that an injury would occur. After a few close calls, and near misses of the nose, the search for a new ball began.
A few unsuccessful attempts to find a new ball later, the original underwater football players decided to make their own. The new ball was filled with syrup or salt water (depending if the pool water was salty or fresh respectively), and sanded smooth for a better passing experience. This type of ball is still used today, and each ball is handmade in Winnipeg.
Underwater football was a founding sport of Sport Manitoba, and is also a part of the Manitoba Underwater Council or MUC for short. It is the oldest underwater team sport played in North America, and would have been the oldest in the world if not for underwater hockey and underwater rugby, which were invented in Europe a few years prior.
After being around for over 50 years, and hosting many World Championships, it is safe to say that Winnipeg’s clubs train some of the best underwater football athletes in the world.
With top of the line training comes many eager students, and with 2 different clubs to choose from, athletes of all different ages, genders, and physical abilities come together to play in a competitive and friendly environment.
The video below shows what underwater football may have looked like with the brick in the early days of the sport.
Where to Play in Your Area and How to Get Started
There are currently two underwater football clubs in Manitoba, both of which reside in Winnipeg.
The MUFC is home to a wide range of players, many of whom fit in with the university crowd. That’s only fitting since this club plays at the University of Manitoba, in the pool where underwater football was invented.
In recognition of the historical and cultural importance of underwater football for Winnipegers, the U of M has marked the official underwater football goal lines with paint, which makes it a great place for new players to learn the game.
The MUFC plays here…
Many of the Independents’ players have been playing underwater football for a long time, and their experience and knowledge is greatly sought after by the next generation of athletes. This club has produced many All-Stars of the game, most of whom still like to come out and play.
Do you think you can take on the experts?
Whether you answered “Yes” or “No” there is always something new to learn from these incredible players, and if you’re lucky they just might teach you.
The ISC plays here…
Both clubs are open to all players of all skill levels, as long as you can swim, and new players are welcome to try out the game free of charge for their first three times out.
If you’re interested in trying out underwater football, or you have any questions about the sport, you can contact Keith (MUC’s Director of Underwater Activities, and long time UWF player at both clubs) using the contact form below.